The violence is damaging Haiti’s fragile economy and causing food and water shortages.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Rotten fruit, withered vegetables, empty water jugs and used gas canisters now fill stores and stalls that serve Haiti’s poor — a consequence of the attacks incessant gang activity that paralyzed the country for more than a week and left it with dwindling supplies of basic necessities.

Terrifying violence pitting anti-government gangs against police in the streets has crippled the fragile economy and made livelihoods extremely difficult for many of the country’s most vulnerable people.

The capital’s main port, Port-au-Prince, has closed, blocking dozens of containers filled with food and medical supplies at a time when U.N. officials say half of the more than 11 million people The country’s inhabitants do not have enough to eat, and 1.4 million people are dying of hunger.

Grocery stores in the capital’s upscale neighborhoods remain stocked, but their products are out of reach for most in a country where most people earn less than $2 per day.

“People are desperate for water,” said Jean Gérald, who recently sold blackened tomatoes and shriveled green onions, confident they would sell out quickly because food is so scarce in parts of Port-au-Prince. . “Because of gang violence, people are going to go hungry. »

Next to him were rows of empty jugs that he had been unable to refill because the violence had forced one of the country’s major bottled water operators to close its doors.

Gerald found that he was running out of things to sell because the depot where he usually buys rice, oil, beans, powdered milk and bread had been burned and its owner kidnapped.

As he spoke, gunshots echoed in the distance.

Dozens of people have been killed and more than 15,000 forced from their homes since coordinated gang attacks began on February 29, as Prime Minister Ariel Henry was in Kenya to lobby for the deployment, with UN support, of a police force from the East African country to combat gangs in Haiti. A Kenyan court, however, ruled in January that such a deployment would be unconstitutional.

While the gangs were rampaging in Port-au-Prince, release more than 4,000 detainees of the two largest prisons in the country, attack its main airport and by burning down police stations, it was the least powerful in Haiti who suffered the most.

“It’s a pretty bad situation,” said Mike Ballard, director of intelligence at Global Guardian, an international security firm based in Virginia. “Gangs are trying to fill a power vacuum. »

Schools, banks and most government agencies remain closed. Gas stations have also closed their doors, and the few who can afford to pay $9 a gallon — more than double the usual rate — have flocked to the black market.

Street vendors are gradually losing their means of subsistence and wondering how they will be able to feed their families.

Michel Jean, 45, sat Thursday next to the makeshift metal shack where he usually sells rice, beans, milk and toilet paper.

“If you look inside, there’s nothing,” he said, pointing to a few cans of sardines. “I don’t know how long this will last. I hope this crisis will be over and people can return to their normal lives.”

This seems unlikely at the moment.

Henry, who faces calls to resign or form a transition council, still cannot return home. He arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday after being unable to land in the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti. The Dominican government said it lacked a required flight plan because it closed its country’s airspace with Haiti.

Meanwhile, Haitian officials extension of the state of emergency and a nighttime curfew on Thursday as gangs continued to attack key state institutions.

“They’re basically saying they’re ready to take power,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian political expert at the University of Virginia, referring to the gangs. “I think we should take them pretty seriously.”

Valdo Cene, 38, worries that elderly people are dying in their homes, with some unable to go out to get food and water because gangs control their neighborhoods.

Cene sold propane, which many use for cooking. But he has been unable to get supplies because gangs are blocking roads and taking control of more territory, including parts of Canaan, a community north of Port-au-Prince.

“The whole region is suffering,” he said. “They don’t have access to water. They don’t get propane.

Cene said he and his family lived on their leftover rice, beans, sardines and plantains, as well as a handful of yams and carrots. He wonders when he will be able to earn a living again.

As more people become unemployed, street vendors are selling smaller quantities of essential goods.

On a recent afternoon, Gerald poured less than a cup of cooking oil into an old water bottle and handed it to a young boy. It was all the boy’s family could afford, and not enough for Gerald to continue earning a living.

“If a foreign force comes, it will give small people like me a respite to have a life and continue fighting for a better future,” he said.


Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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